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Is Michael Meijer the Smartest Chemist of the Netherlands?

He is occupied with the home stretch of his promotion. But in between, there is another challenge: Michael Meijer is going through to the finals of ‘The Smartest Chemist of the Netherlands’. On Tuesday 9 October, he and five others fight for this title during the Evening of Chemistry. ‘I was dragged along at the last minute to take part.’


Saying Meijer was not really well prepared for the preliminary round, is an understatement. ‘My colleague had formed a team but still needed one person. So, I was actually dragged along to join.’ Several teams from the region competed in a pub quiz (with only chemical questions), from which two teams emerged as winners. ‘Then we had to stand on stage for the final round. We thought we had to play against the other team, but at that moment we found out everyone had to fight against each other! At the end of that round, it turned out I had the most points.’

The final battle

The final will take place during the Evening of Chemistry, organized by the Royal Dutch Chemical Society (KNCV). In honor of the 23rd lustrum this year, the Smartest Chemist competition was created. Just as with the Dutch TV show (The Smartest Person of the Netherlands), Philip Freriks will be the quizmaster. Only the concept is a little different, since there are six finalists instead of three and there is only a limited amount of time. ‘The final will be played following the concept of the tv-show Switch. You are lined up with the six finalists, numbered 1 to 6. If you answer a question correctly, you move up a spot, if you make a mistake, you have to move one spot back. Each time, after a while, the person standing last gets eliminated. We play four rounds of 115 seconds, that is how long the KNCV exists this year. After four round, two finalists remain, who then have to fight the final battle together. A lot more nerve-racking than the preliminary round, where you just wrote down your answers on a piece of paper.’

The winning team of the Leiden Institute of Chemistry

Obscure feitjes

After his unprepared success during the preliminary round, will Meijer prepare for the final? ‘I think I will just go there and see how it goes. That mainly has to do with the fact that I am still working hard on my PhD, and that is more important.’ Furthermore, he would not know where to start. ‘I could read all kinds of Wikipedia pages, but they could really ask anything. The questions are very broad, with many of those obscure facts. You just have to know them.’ Fortunately, Meijer is quite good at remembering these kinds of facts. ‘I have a broad general interest and I am, also outside the field of chemistry, often good in remembering strange obscure facts. That helps. However, in this case, I also owe a large part to my teammates. We did 90% of that preliminary round together and just had a strong team. Now, I have to do it by myself…’

On 9 October, Meijer takes on 5 other smart chemists. Of course, he has already looked up the opposition on the website. ‘People from all ages participate, not just PhD students.’ The winner will receive a sum of 1150 euros ‘Ten times the age of the KNCV.’

Michael Meijer followed the bachelor's degree in Molecular Science & Technology in Leiden and Delft and obtained his Master's degree in Chemistry in Leiden. Currently he is doing a PhD research in inorganic chemistry at the Leiden Institute of Chemistry. Here he investigates ruthenium complexes, which researchers want to use as light-activatable anti-cancer medication. The complexes are not toxic in the dark, but under irradiation with visible light they do become so. By using light as a trigger, this form of chemotherapy can be activated more specifically. Currently only cancer close to the surface of the skin can be treated in this way. Meijer is working on a technique that allows doctors to deal with tumors situated deeper in the body.

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